Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Native American Tribes Hoping to Thwart Cape Wind Power Project

First, there was former Senator Ted Kennedy who thought that the Cape Wind project would ruin his views and fishing grounds off Cape Code. Now, we've got two Native American tribes lodging protests to prevent the construction of the controversial wind power project.
Known as Cape Wind, the project is the nation’s first planned offshore wind farm and would cover 24 square miles in the sound, an area roughly the size of Manhattan. The park service decision came in response to a request from two Massachusetts Indian tribes, who said the 130 proposed wind turbines would thwart their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise, which requires unobstructed views across the sound, and disturb ancestral burial grounds.

The tribes — the Mashpee Wampanoag of Cape Cod and the Aquinnah Wampanoag of Martha’s Vineyard — sought the listing last fall, shortly before a final federal decision on the project was expected. The project has been in the works since 2001 and is strongly supported by Gov. Deval Patrick.

The decision by the National Park Service did not kill the Cape Wind plan, but it erected new hurdles by requiring more negotiations and, possibly, changes to the project, like moving it. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar set a deadline of March 1 for the tribes and the project’s developer, Energy Management Inc., to reach a compromise.

If they do not — a distinct possibility given the acrimony surrounding the project — Mr. Salazar can decide the project’s future himself after seeking suggestions from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent group. But even if Mr. Salazar lets the project move forward, the park service finding could help the tribes and opponents build a legal case against it.

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, said the decision confirmed “what the Wampanoag people have known for thousands of years: that Nantucket Sound has significant archaeological, historic and cultural values and is sacred to our people.”

Others said the finding was surprising because Nantucket Sound, which encompasses more than 500 square miles, is by far the largest body of water ever found eligible for listing on the national historic register. Other eligible bodies of water have included Walden Pond in Massachusetts, which covers about 60 acres, and Zuni Salt Lake in New Mexico, which is about 6,500 feet across, said Jeffrey Olson, a spokesman for the park service.

“The decision is without precedent in terms of implicating many square miles of what is, legally speaking, the high seas,” said Ian A. Bowles, the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “But as a procedural matter, it’s a good thing a decision was reached, and the secretary is getting personally involved to get it over the finish line.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Salazar said he planned to meet next week with representatives of the tribes and the developer in hopes of speeding a resolution.

The park service decision comes at a time when Mr. Cromwell’s tribe, which won federal recognition in 2007, is hoping to build a casino.

President Obama has championed wind energy during his first year in office, though he has not publicly taken sides in the Cape Wind battle. In addition to the tribes, the project’s opponents include homeowners and boaters on Cape Cod, who say it would hurt wildlife, fishing and tourism and spoil the beauty of Nantucket Sound. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whose family compound in Hyannis Port looks out on the proposed wind farm site, was the project’s most powerful opponent until his death last August.
Why exactly has the President been silent on the matter? Simple. Kennedy was one of his staunchest supporters, and Obama's victory in 2008 was a personal victory for Kennedy who saw the liberal wing retake control of the Democratic party over the moderate Clintonite wing. There's no way that Obama was going to undermine efforts by Kennedy in Kennedy's backyard.

If the environmentalists are truly serious about doing something about producing alternative energy sources, this wind power project should get built without further delays. Yet, it appears that politics trumps whatever science says on the matter, and that NIMBY still reigns supreme. The efforts to turn the waters off Cape Cod into a protected sanctuary are little different than California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein's efforts to turn vast swaths of the Mojave Desert into a National Monument to thwart the construction of a bunch of large scale wind and solar power energy facilities.

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